One of the first mentions of backgammon I could find was in the gossip column of the Pennsylvania Gazette of August 23, 1739.
Apparently, the Players Gone Wild phenomenon is not exclusively a product of the modern era:
We hear, that here are private letters from Rome which advise that the Pope and the Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie Stewart, Pretender to the British throne), had an unlucky quarrel over a game of backgammon, so that the boxes, dice and tables were thrown about the room, and the Pretender left the city next morning in high disgust.
And they weren’t even playing with the cube!
On November 14, 1760, King George II appears to have settled the question, “Backgammon – Skill or Luck?” (I always thought Georgie II was smart, George III must have been a regression to the mean.)
George II enacts that the game of Passage, and all and every other game or games invented or to be invented with one or more die or dice, or with any other instrument, engine or device in the nature of dice having one of more numbers thereon, (Backgammon or other games played with a Backgammon table excepted), are and shall be deemed to be games or lotteries by dice, within the intent and meaning of the foregoing Act and persons keeping any house of place for such purpose and persons playing at any of the said games shall be liable to the several penalties inflicted by the Act.
London Public Advertiser, November 14, 1760
These penalties included transportation to America – oh the horror!
The July 13, 1786 edition of the Belfast Evening Post tells us that O’Carolan, the celebrated Irish bard:
…though blind, was eminently skilled in the game of backgammon.
All I can say is that O’Carolan must’ve REALLY trusted the guys in the local chouette.
Backgammon has certainly had some distinguished players. As Napoleon was en route to exile on St. Helena, the British ambassador asked General Bertrand (he was to be Napoleon’s companion on the island) if there was anything Bonaparte wanted to take with him. The reply was:
…20 packs of cards, a backgammon and a domino table and some articles of furniture.
The Times of London, August 11, 1815
And sometimes, you just REALLY, REALLY want a new backgammon board – and flowers.
A SWINDLER – On Saturday afternoon a man of gentlemanly appearance went into Mrs. Morton’s filagree shop and ordered a backgammon board to be sent to 39 Tavistock Street and said it would be paid for on delivery. (25 pounds sterling or $2,358.58 in today’s dollars) He stated his name was Kenny.
A lad was accordingly sent with it. On his arrival near the house, the “Kenny” accosted him and inquired if he was going to #39. The lad answered in the affirmative and recognized him to be the person who had ordered the board. He delivered the board to him and walked with the swindler to #39. On their arrival, the “Kenny” knocked and while waiting for the door to be opened, directed the boy to go back to the shop and return with another board of smaller size that he would purchase as well. The door was opened and the boy saw the swindler enter the home after which he returned to the shop to fetch the second board.
On his arriving the 2nd time at #39, the boy knocked and the door was answered by a female servant who said no person of the name of Kenny lived there. An altercation ensued between the boy and the female which brought the master of the house into the hall. He stated that a man had been there a short time before carrying a backgammon board. The man had inquired if anyone named Kenny lived in the home, and being told “No” went away again.
The man further reported that a flower woman had been also been swindled the week before in the same way.
The Times of London, November 12, 1816